Only A Dream: A Post Soul Approach to the Civil Rights Movement

Drawing of Martin Luther King Jr. published in Ebony Magazine 1980

Drawing of Martin Luther King Jr. published in Ebony Magazine 1980

The most recent aesthetic to black culture is the Post Soul Movement. This aesthetic critiques the narrowness of the ideals formed during the Black Arts Movement. A specific example of this can be found in the Post Soul critique of the Civil Rights Movement.

This drawing was created in 1979 and published in Ebony magazine in 1980. Martin Luther King Jr. is depicted in the background with his hands folded beneath his chin. He is looking out at something the audience cannot see, making him seem pensive. Next to his head is a quote that he made during his famous I Have A Dream speech. The quote reads, “I have a dream…little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Below Martin Luther King are the images of four black children. They are all holding hands. The first three appear to be close in age while the girl on the end seems to be much younger. They are all smiling. Across the group are the words, “1st class citizenship.”

Post Soul aesthetics assure that there is a black identity however, a major critique of the Black Arts Movement is that black identity was too narrowly defined and that identity is much more complicated. Post Soul theoreticians will argue that Civil Rights Movement did not provide the outcome that was promised and like black identity, the African American experience in today’s society is much more complicated than the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement previously anticipated. One could even say that the dream that is depicted in the picture above is still just a dream. Even during the Black Arts Movement, people of the same race were judging each other by the color of their skin and a part of that goes back to the narrowness of the period. Critiques such as these can be seen in Post Soul novels such as Caucasia by Danzy Senna and The White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty.

The black experience or identity definitely exists but Post Soul theoreticians want to know how broad that identity can be. The outcome that was sought from the Civil Rights Movement was very limited and the reality has found to be more complicated and more broad than was imagined. For those that argue for the Post Soul aesthetic, it is important to recognize the dream and identity that were hoped for while continuing to search for that broader meaning.


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